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June 9, 2001

French Polynesia 2001: Introduction

In June of 2001, Roger and I decided that we needed some time off. Thanks to his resources, we were able to stay at any Le Meridien in the world for a discount. So we looked at the map and the most exotic place that we could think of was Tahiti. Some quick travel arrangements were made with Concorde Travel Management and we were off to French Polynesia.

We really wanted to spend 3 nights at the Le Meridien Tahiti and three nights at the Le Meridien Bora Bora. Sadly, we were only able to get Tahiti for the week. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, we went ahead and booked a flight so we could spend the day on Bora Bora. We also decided to take some guided tours – one of Tahiti and the other of the neighboring island of Moorea.

I had always wanted to go to Bora Bora and Tahiti since I was a little kid dreaming up Doingworld. It didn’t disappoint at all. I am glad that we got the chance to go and am actively sending out resumes to the various hotels on Bora Bora so I can move there – ok maybe not, but a person can dream right? I hope you enjoy the diaries and pictures.

June 10, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 1: Los Angeles, Tahiti Faaa, Le Meridien Tahiti

Sunday June 10, 2001
Another vacation has arrived, and this time Roger and I are off to French Polynesia and the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea. After a late night last night of watching Muriel’s Wedding and packing, we awoke early to get ready to go. Without much fuss and a quick stop at Ralph’s for some water and some suntan lotion, we were on our way to the airport. LAX was its usual crowded chaotic place on a Sunday, but after a few tries, we were able to get some parking. Michael was kind enough to escort us to the airport, and as a reward we fed him some McDonald’s and gave him some money for parking. Check-in was a breeze at the Air Tahiti Nui window, although since we were on an American codeshare with Quantas codeshared with Air Tahiti Nui, we were fortunate to have selected the correct window at all. It was finally time to get to the gate, and after a bit we were on the plane.
The flight was pretty good; no major complaints save for the very hard seat cushions. The movies were Unbreakable and the Robert De Niro/Cuba Gooding Jr. movie Men of Honor. I spent the majority of the flight reading my newly acquired Deep Space Nine companion book. It is very interesting and in the 8 hours of flight I only barely began to get to Season 3. Looks like I will have something left for the flight back.
Now I am an experienced world traveler, and arriving in Tahiti, I expected no fuss. Unfortunately, Tahiti had other plans. First, we were expecting the shuttle from the Le Meridien hotel, but alas, there was no bus. It then looked like we had to take a cab – no big deal; we just went over to the ATM to get some money out. Sadly, the airport ATM was non-functional. I checked my wallet and found about $40 US in there and the change bureau was still open, so I went in and changed it for some Central Pacific Francs. Now $5000 CPF richer, we hired a cab to the hotel. It was only 2500 CPF and considering the alternative, it was a bargain. I was a bit concerned about the inability to get some money, but I figured tomorrow we would get a chance to go into Papeete to get some money at the bank. We checked into the luxurious room with an awesome view. Roger’s connection with the Le Meridien sure paid off.
After settling into a nice meal at the La Plantation restaurant at the hotel, I suddenly realized that I had left the disk adapter for the camera back in LA. Crap. I was very worried since this meant that we would be limited in the number of pictures we would be able to take on our trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth. We went back up to the room and I viewed the pictures on the television. Thankfully, the TV in the room accepts all international video standards. We decided to reduce the quality down to medium on the camera to boost the remaining pictures from 60 to 120. Our trip is off to a shaky start, and I hope that tomorrow we can get back on the right foot.

June 11, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 2: Papeete

Monday June 11, 2001
I awoke a bit early due to my internal clock still being on Pacific Time. Tahiti is 3 hours behind Pacific Time – the same zone as Hawaii. After a quick shower, I went downstairs to inquire about tours available. Returning to the room, I found that our delicious breakfast had been delivered. Good thing I stuck with the Parisian breakfast (basically bread, hot chocolate, and fresh orange juice). Roger unwisely chose the American breakfast which in addition to all of the Parisian stuff, included mostly inedible and undercooked eggs and sausage. We decided to take the Circle Island tour of Tahiti on Tuesday and the All day Moorea tour on Thursday. Wednesday we were already scheduled to fly to Bora Bora and the tour lady said we could make arrangements when we get to the main city on Bora Bora. While there, I want to go see the Le Meridien on Bora Bora, from the pictures it looks fantastic.
They no longer offer the Papeete tour, so we decided to hang out and wait for the 2:30 bus. We walked down the street a bit to an ATM next to a market. This machine was open, but politely refused my ATM card. I was a bit perplexed and worried. Without money, we would not be able to get a Taxi on Wednesday and Friday to the airport. After watching a bit of Le Miserables and the French version of The Price is Right, it was time for the bus. Arriving in Papeete, we set out looking for an ATM. I noticed that this really isn’t a glamorous city. There are a lot of teenagers hanging around; lots of trash and the smell of exhaust everywhere. Roger commented that it looked like a developing country. I had to agree considering that without the French, Papeete would be a very poor place. Good thing that tourism is big. I can’t imagine anyone coming here and thinking that this is the best of the island. I hope that tomorrow’s tour we will see the best parts of the island.
After 5 or 6 ATMs, we finally ended up at a bank where the teller told us that due to our failure at the ATMs, we would have to get a cash advance. I must call Wells Fargo when I get back and ask them why my ATM card didn’t work at all. I have been to Sweden and most of Western Europe with no problem, I guess there is something in these ATMs that just isn’t compatible. I wonder if it is my PIN number. I noticed that Roger’s PIN was too long, and that the machine displayed six positions. Oh well, after traipsing from bank to bank, I was glad to be able to get the cash advance to have some money on hand for incidentals. Side note: I have no idea why the guy in front of us needed to get a bond in Australian dollars for two people, but my goodness, he took 45 minutes to do it. If we weren’t so desperate for cash, we would have stormed out like the French man in front of us.
After the bank, we happened upon a camera store. Roger wanted to go in to see if they had a disk for us to download the camera images onto the laptop. They had a wide selection of items. The cheapest transfer alternative was a PCMCIA card adapter for the smart media card. The cool thing was that it was reasonably priced (around $70) and it had a higher transfer speed than the disk. The disk was twice the price. I felt much better about the trip after buying the adapter. It seems that the trip is back on track. We boosted the camera resolution back up to Super Res, and headed off with the remaining 30 minutes to take some pictures and look in some shops. We didn’t have much time since it was almost 5 and most stores were closing. We did manage to get a quick snack and some water before departing the bus back for the hotel. Roger was even kind enough to take a picture of a large Spanish-speaking family that was staying at our hotel.
Back at the hotel, we rested up and waited for dinner to start in the restaurant. We had big plans of swimming in the nice sandy bottom pool after dinner, but I was too tired and rested instead. Dinner was OK, but it’s a good thing that we ordered the food well done. The French sure like to under cook things. Mental note: If ordering a burger again, mention no thousand island dressing (is there a reason that they serve that in French Polynesia – sort of a Land o’ Lakes and Minnesota thing? Who know..). Tomorrow is the big Tahiti tour, so it’s off to bed at 10pm.

June 12, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 3: Circle Tahiti Tour, Blowhole, Cascades, Gauguin Museum

Tuesday June 12, 2001
Up early for the tour of the island today. Luc met us at the hotel lobby promptly at 9am. I was a bit concerned because he was hacking quite a bit in the beginning. Thankfully, he turned out to be OK for the trip. We picked up a total of 12 people from various hotels in the area and off we went. We started going through Papeete, and our guide provided some insight into the many buildings we just passed with no clue yesterday. Our first stop was an overlook of Papeete harbor and the site of an abandoned hotel – soon to be either a Hyatt or condos. Next up were Venus Point and the lighthouse. This area was the site of the first landings by the Europeans due to the natural harbor. It is called Venus Point, Luc told us, due to the fact it was one of the three stations taking readings trying to determine what the distance between the sun and the earth was. They call it Venus Point because the time they were to make the reading is when Venus eclipsed the sun. In addition to the lighthouse, there was a nice marker to honor Captain Cook.
Next stop was the famous blowhole. If you stand near this hole in the rocks as the tide comes in, you can get your hat and other loose articles blown off of you with great force. Most of the beaches on the island are black sand beaches due to the volcanic activity and the lack of big reefs. Apparently, these come as the islands ages. Bora Bora is an old island and that is why it has many white sand beaches. After the blowhole, it was off to the Faarumai Cascades, home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Tahiti. It was only a short walk up a nice trail, and despite the warnings, I did not see too many mosquitoes. A quick photo op and a quick stop at the snack stand for some Oreo’s and some water, it was back into the minibus.
Our next stop was quite a distance away at the Gauguin museum. Along the way, we saw the recent landslides that had closed the circle road for six months. The museum was nice, but it is more of a memorial to him rather than an exhibit. Most of the original works were actually woodcarvings. His paintings are spread out all over the world. One of the nice exhibits was postcards of his works and an explanation of where each of the originals resides. Another highlight was a scale recreation of Gauguin’s home on the Marquesas Islands. I took this opportunity to get some postcards and Roger picked up a mini Tiki.
Our next stop was a Tahitian lunch buffet. It was some good food in a friendly atmosphere, though in my mind they overcharged for the sodas. They did have a nice exhibit outside the restaurant with some sharks and a wide variety of colorful fish. Luc did give us some good advice – if we are in a reef and run into one of the big fish, move around a lot. Apparently, they are used to being fed and if they see something floating, they will nibble at it. Back on the bus, we made our way over to the Mara’a Grottos. Only one grotto was open at the time due to some rock activity. However, it was a quick 5 minutes from the street, and the weather was very nice and cool. I am not sure that I would want to swim in it, but Luc insists it is OK. Apparently Gauguin swam there as well.
After a quick stop at a distillery with some very potent offerings (we declined to get any), it was off to our final stop: The museum of Tahiti and her islands. This was a first class museum and I recommend it to all that visit Tahiti. Their permanent exhibit features many details on the history of Tahiti and her people. It features exhibits on Geology, Geography, and cultural traditions. It had just the right balance of everything and wasn’t too preachy or boorish. A definite must-see if you are in the neighborhood.
It was then time to head back to the hotel and rest up for our grand tour of Bora Bora. Talking to the reception desk, they recommended that we leave at 6:45a to catch the 8:20 flight due to rush hour and the need to arrive 1 hour before departure. We went to the local store to pick up some supplies for tomorrow including some fantastic French bread and two liters of water. It was then time for a quick dip in the pool and the ocean (yeah! I made it into the South Pacific!) and then up to the room for some room service and relaxation. We discovered this cool program on TV that showcased the best of the Le Meridien Tahiti and the Le Meridien Bora Bora. We taped a bit of it to take home and show the relatives, despite the black line running through the video. It’s now time to get to bed. I am very excited about tomorrow and have no idea what to expect. Unlike today and Thursday, we are on our own and hopefully it will be smoother than Monday.

June 13, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 4: Bora Bora, Fashion Show

Wednesday June 13, 2001
To be honest, it is a bit difficult to put into words what I saw today, but I will do my best. We awoke to catch our 6:45am Taxi. Our driver today was Rene. He was a bit frazzled – apparently there was something big going on last night and he was up rather late. After the quick trip to Faaa Airport, he offered to be there to pick us up at the airport when we returned. Arriving at the airport we checked in with plenty of time on the clock. In fact, we ended up with more than an hour to kill in the terminal. We did get a chance to see rural French airport at its best. Just walk out the double doors, out on the pad, and get inside of the plane. Oh, and mind the propellers.
As we waited, we pondered which of the activities we would do on Bora Bora. I had an underwater camera so I was convinced that no matter what we do, we should get some underwater photos of the Gorn. I was a tad bit nervous about the plane trip, but it actually was a smooth ride the whole way. As we approached Bora Bora, words escaped me. All the stories, all the myths about how beautiful it is are true. Our pilot circled the entire island and we got a good look and some pictures through the window. We had decided to take the boat into town and see what tours were offered, but at the last minute we decided to be impulsive.
At the airport in Bora Bora, there were representatives of the Le Meridien Bora Bora waiting for some guests. We introduced ourselves and asked if it was possible to see the hotel. Huave (?) was kind enough to call her manager and ask if we could go. As she was calling ahead, we got really nervous because the last boat for Viatape had left before she hung up. If Le Meridien decided we couldn’t stay, we would be stuck at the airport for another 2 hours. Luckily, Christophe came through for us at the hotel and we were allowed passage. I taped most of the boat ride to remember it. It was phenomenal. The colors, the smell, the water, the people, everything was just right.
Arriving at the Meridien, we were again awestruck. It was an amazing hotel. There was so much to offer and so much to do, all under the shadow of peaks on Bora Bora. Situated on a Motu, the Meridien is in one of the best beaches in Bora Bora. We met with Christophe and he welcomed us to his hotel. He asked us what we would like to do and he gave us some recommendations. We checked into the activity desk, and decided to hit the special Le Meridien lagoon and get some free snorkeling equipment and some towels. It was a tad difficult to rent stuff without a room number, but we just smiled and explained ourselves and eventually got what we needed.
After lathering up with suntan lotion, Roger and I changed into our trunks, donned the equipment, grabbed the Gorn and the Camera, and headed into the lagoon. Just a note – they were out of size 11 flippers, so Roger had to push me around in the pool on several occasions. We acclimated to the water and I took a few test photos with the camera and away we went. It was startling to see the first few fish just swim right up to you, but after a bit, you get used to it. I found swimming in the lagoon difficult after awhile due to the strong current, but I did manage to get some good shots. Roger and his flippers had a much easier time about it. After swimming and snorkeling, we relaxed on the beach for an hour or so. It was then time to grab a bite to eat.
The little snack café we ate at was by the pool at the hotel and man was it full of flies. The food was excellent (I had steak and fries), but it was a battle to keep the flies away and that got old really quick. Roger ended up with some nice sorbet to cap off a mostly good dining experience. After grub, I sent off my postcards and we did a circle tour of the hotel to wind up the remaining hour or so left at the hotel. Before we knew it, it was time to catch the boat back to the airport. I was pooped and ready to go back to Tahiti, but I was really sad that I only had a few hours to experience this place. I really think I could give up everything and retire to here. It probably wouldn’t be as special anymore, but I am sure it would still be beautiful.
Arriving back in Papeete, Rene was there ready to pick us up. He was in much better shape having rested a bit and had a full day worth of fares. He entertained us with some interesting tidbits about his life including the purchase of a Rolls Royce for a friend and something about his relationship with the leader of Berlin (the band). When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that there was a fashion show later in the evening. We had perfect seats from our balcony. I have no idea who designed the outfits or what type of show it was, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was then time to order some room service and hit the sack. Tomorrow is another full day visiting a different island. We’ll see if it is as memorable as Bora Bora. I only hope it is half as memorable as today was. If so, I’ll be completely satisfied.

June 14, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 5: Moorea, Tiki Village

Thursday June 14, 2001
Again up early, but thankfully an hour later. We were met downstairs at 7:45am by a representative of Tahiti Nui Travel who escorted us to the ferry to take us to Moorea. We got stalled at the Royal Beachcomber because someone’s watch was running behind and they were 15 minutes late. We did get to get out of the bus and explore the hotel. It was a nice hotel, but I still prefer the Le Meridien. Along for the ride from our hotel was a French couple who went along with us on the circle of Tahiti tour on Tuesday. They seemed to recognize us, but it was hard to tell because they did not speak any English. After a short wait with a throng of school kids apparently on some outing, we boarded the ferry. We chose to sit inside on the nice cushy seats rather than on the top deck on the aluminum stadium seats. The ride was uneventful – probably due to the fact that the school kids were on a different boat.
Arriving in Moorea, we looked for our bus but did not see anyone around. Finally, we realized that this guy in a traditional wrap and some cool looking head wear was holding a sign with our names on it. He was a friendly guy, though we never did catch his name. He took us on the circle tour and we visited places like Maharepa, where we bought some water and another distillery that made fruit flavored alcohol similar to the one on Tahiti. I tried the orange and the pineapple flavors and my eyes are still watering. From there it was off to the Belvedere lookout. It was a long and narrow winding road up to it, but it was worth the trip. From there, we had great views of both Opunohu and Cook Bays. As a bonus, the SS Gauguin was getting ready to come into port. As we made our way to the Tiki Village, we saw some of the original churches on the island.
We finally arrived at our host’s home of the Tiki Village. 45 people have chosen to live in the traditional ways and entertain and teach people about the traditions of the Polynesian people. As luck would have it, the hordes of kids from the dock in Papeete were there getting a show. Our guide showed us the intricate steps on how they make the famous Tahitian black pearls. I have to say they sure do push those suckers here. We were then treated to a nice lunch – a portion of which was exactly what Roger ordered at the Le Meridien on Bora Bora yesterday. We did get to see a little bit of the Tiki Show with our host joined by others including a man with tattoos everywhere on his body – including his face, who’s favorite saying was Boo-Yah. After lunch and some mingling around the village, our host returned to give us a guided tour of the village. He explained what the different craftspeople do in the village. It certainly was an interesting experience. It all seemed a bit forced and surreal at times. It ultimately worked as something to educate the children on their heritage, but it was bizarre to see these people living very simple lives right next to homes with satellite dishes. It’s too bad they can’t get rid of the neighbors, it would be much better experience.
After some quick photos, it was back in the minibus for the conclusion of our tour, I think everyone was a bit tired, no one really said much the rest of the way around the island. I think maybe the alcohol at the distillery and a few Tiki Beers, and people were mellow. We arrived back at the harbor early, so our guide offered to take us to the best beach in the area. We all agreed to go, and before long, we were there. It was a nice white coral sand beach just north of the Sofitel. We took some pictures and got our feet wet. If we had more than a few minutes, I would have changed and gone in more, but I didn’t feel like riding home all icky. Some clouds were forming and it was beginning to look like rain, so we headed back to the pier. We bit adieu to our host and waited for the boat to come.
Now, there are two ferries between Tahiti and Moorea. The one that we took was a catamaran that covers the distance in about 20 minutes. The other ferry is much larger and takes about an hour to get across the channel. I mention this because the previously mentioned French couple got on the slow ferry, which was in port about 20 minutes before the fast one showed up. By the time we loaded and got to Papeete, they were just arriving. I was worried that we were going to have to wait for them, but because of the large swells due to the changing weather, they managed to stay ahead of us. It took us almost an hour to get from the dock back to the hotel due to the traffic and the fact we had a couple people who were picked up and were taken to the airport instead of a hotel.
Upon arrival we decided to check out the restaurant next to the Le Meridien (I’m sure the room service guy was disappointed). I had a pretty good pepperoni pizza and Roger had some lasagna that looked good as well. Satisfied, we headed back to the room and went to bed. We still are not sure what we are going to do our last day here. Our plane does not leave until 10pm, so we have some time to kill after our check out time of 11:00am. We asked for a late checkout so we can have the opportunity to go swimming and then take a shower. No word yet, so I guess we will have to wait and see tomorrow. I think that if we can’t get a late checkout, we will just kill time in Papeete until its time to go to the airport.

June 15, 2001

French Polynesia 2001 Day 6: Papeete, Tahiti Faa, Los Angeles

Friday June 15, 2001
Our last day in Tahiti dawned and the early word from the front desk was that someone was going to need our room at 12pm. So we packed all our goodies up with a plan. Our entire luggage was put into the storage room at the hotel and Roger and I headed for the beach hut. We secured a kayak, life jackets, and some oars and set out for the barrier reef. It only took us about 20 minutes to paddle out there. I think that all of the outrigger paddlers have no worries about competition from us. Due to the currents, we managed our best zig-zag formation out there. Once we got close to the reef, we could see the waves breaking and the kayak started to roll through the waves. Not wanting to tempt fate, we decided after a couple of quick shots from the disposable waterproof camera to head back to the shore. It took us a bit longer, mainly due to the lack of energy (see this is what happens when you don’t eat breakfast), but eventually we made it. We initially thought we wouldn’t have time to swim in the pool, but after some quick inquiries, we found out that the bus for town left at 2:30pm instead of 12pm.
We relaxed and swam around the pool until about 1pm when we decided to use the transit suite to freshen up. The suite was a special room on the 3rd floor that had 4 separate bathrooms with showers and towels and a living room area with some couches, a desk and a TV. Roger and I both showered and got ready for our excursion to town. One of the things that we always forgot is that it takes a good 30-45 minutes to get to the center of Papeete from the Le Meridien. Once off the bus in downtown, we both decided it was high time to get something to eat. We tried to go to Lou Pescadou’s, the restaurant that the lady who helped us with arranging the tours on Monday recommended, but it was closed for the afternoon. Most restaurants in Papeete are closed from 2:30pm to around 6:00 for the Tahitian equivalent of a siesta. The owner of the restaurant did direct us to the local McDonald’s, which thankfully, did not observe the closed down period. One interesting note about the McDonald’s is that they had a display case promoting skater clothes with some fake walls with graffiti on it. I am not sure what sort of message they are trying to promote, but I didn’t think it was one that was very helpful.
After McDonald’s, we picked up some local ice cream and shopped in and around the Vaima shopping center. I picked up a nice map of the Society Islands, and a Tahiti Airlines model jet. We also managed to look around the famous market where flowers and fruits were offered. We were tempted, but didn’t want much more to carry. With about 30 minutes left before the bus went back to the hotel, we decided to pop into a local cyber café to check my e-mail to make sure Cory was set to pick us up tomorrow. Sure enough, he had responded. I had 67 e-mails not counting ones from work, which I decided not to check until I got back on Monday. On our way out of the café we picked up some water and headed out for the bus. It was a perfect end to our trip. We managed to do a lot, despite not having a hotel room as a base of operations. It also helped bookmark our trip. We started in Papeete on Sunday and Monday, lost and without any cash. We left on Friday seasoned visitors who had money for trinkets and ice cream.
Back at the hotel, we spent our remaining hours writing the last of postcards and also walking around the hotel one last time. Tonight was the Polynesian Buffet in the restaurant. My one regret is that we didn’t get to stay an extra day to see at least one of the performances at the hotel. Our feelings were mixed as Rene finally showed up to take us to the airport one last time. We both wished we could stay longer, but at the same time missed the comforts of home. Inside the airport, we did a flurry of last minute shopping to get tikis, calendars, and cookies for family members. I wish we had done it before we checked our bags, that way our backpacks wouldn’t have been so full on the plane. The trip home was pretty unremarkable, save for the intense heat on the plane when we boarded – apparently it had been all shut up for the day and they didn’t turn on the air before we left. It was a good 30 minutes of sweating before things began to cool down. The whole warm feeling contributed to the difficulty of sleeping on the flight, but once the sleeping masks were handed out and I found a good position, I was annoying half the aircraft with my snoring. Before we knew it, we were on final approach which took us from Catalina Island, over Disneyland, along I-5, and then eventually right into LAX. As a special treat, we got one of the overflow gates in the boonies and had to be bussed back to the terminal. After getting our forms stamped, we picked up our luggage and headed out to meet Cory. On the way out, the customs agents stopped Roger for a random check and had his bag searched. Roger joins a long list of people I have traveled with who have been stopped by customs, whereas in the 10 plus years of international travel I have done, I have never been stopped. I told Roger it was probably due to the fact he was using the Mondo-sized suitcase.
Cory was waiting for us and it was time to head home. Roger had finally made his first international trip, and we both agreed that our trip was great and look forward to our next adventure.